I still can’t believe we had our last rendezvous with Axe & Co. more than a month ago.
Bad news: I have have serious withdrawals.
Good news: I can always go back to Billions Season 1 and watch the entire series all over again. Again. And again. And again.
Best news: I had so much fun catching them on set over the years, and nobody can take those memories away from me! So here’s one: I am taking you to EXACTLY eight years ago to Billions Season 1 Finale set. ENJOY!
ps. The post below was originally published on Fan Fun on April 7, 2016 just around the time Season 1 Finale aired.
Axe and Wags may be the “couple” with the most shared screen time on Billions. And the way they work off of one another, in every scene they appear together, feels right. They just build the moment together. They are believable, relatable, human and, oh yeah, extremely funny. I sometimes feel like I am watching this old and odd marriage in which two people know their own place as well as their better half extremely well and they deliver seamlessly. There is no need for words to understand each other but there is always time for a good tease. (“Bad idea. No man is a hero to his valet.” “That goes double for his COO. So you’re fucked with me either way.”)
We have seen Axe and Wags time and again play the good cop (Axe) and the bad cop (Wags) with Axe Capital employees as well as outsiders such as Yum Time board members. This asymmetry between them is calculated. Their symmetry, on the other hand, is natural. Are they twins separated at birth or what? 🙂 They are so delightful to watch.
So I take this opportunity to say a few words for a character that I deeply love in Billions: Michael “Wags” Wagner. Well, yeah, Wendy is right, he is a “complete goddamn animal.” Wags constantly keeps you guessing if he can get any vulgar than that (“We have to be more pure than the Virgin Mary before her first period”) or any politically incorrect than that (“These days, it’s great to have a gay.”) and, hey, he never ceases to surprise you! His loyalty for Axe is genuine (“Fire everyone, right now, including me!”) and he delivers for him. Wags may be a “rapacious scumbag” but he is Axe’s rapacious scumbag, and ours, too!
I said it before, I will say it again. I LOVED David Costabile as Gale Boetticher in Breaking Bad, one of my all-time favorite shows. I LOVED him helping Walter White with the Blue, and I just LOVE seeing him help Axe with the Green 🙂 And I can’t agree more with IndieWire giving David Costabile special recognition in its first review of Billions: “He’s played far quieter roles in shows ranging from “Flight of the Conchords” to “Breaking Bad” and “The Wire.” Here, he’s powerful and brash, and he appears to be having the most fun of anyone on or off screen.”
Absolutely! And here’s my “off screen” Axe and Wags story!
Well… You all know they shoot Billions in all boroughs of New York City as well as in the city suburbs and Long Island. Social media is an amazing source to find out about the locations Billions uses but I never really fancy going to the set mainly because the set is a work place and fans crowding the area could be a real distraction for the cast and the crew… well, until… December 8, 2015. Billions shooting at a specific location for the season finale coupled with the fact that the location is only a 15-20 mins walk from my own apartment is a bit too tempting not to do it. It’s December but we have brilliant and sunny fall weather outside. Then why not go and take a look? You see, I am as good as Axe (or Chuck for that matter) in justifying the means for the ends 😀
Why am I intrigued by the location? Because it is Park Avenue and 73rd street. So? OK. Do you know which fictional TV character supposedly lives on Park and 73rd? Don Draper! He lives at 783 Park Avenue that is exactly at the corner of Park and 73rd! Now I love Don Draper. We know Damian Lewis loves Don Draper. But I also know Brian Koppelman loves Don Draper. So I am genuinely thinking about whether the location is an insider joke or something… It turns out it is not 🙂
I first spot Billions posts along with trailers and equipment trucks parked on the west side of Park Avenue. The set seems deserted except for one guy checking his phone on the next block between 71st and 72nd streets. I don’t really expect to spot actors anyway because the production probably has their trailers and trucks parked on the street as they film at some interior location. So I think they are probably shooting somewhere and I could just go ahead and take a few photos…
I walk down the block to the corner of Park and 72nd street and see that the guy who is checking his phone is nobody other than David Costabile. He seems to be in his own clothes. Casual. Then I notice the trailers have names on them. And here is the “Axe” trailer!
As I am standing in front of “Axe” trailer — not exactly in front of it, a bit to the right — and thinking to myself “Showtime never lets us call a Damian Lewis character with his first name, does it?… Nicholas Brody is Brody and Bobby Axelrod is Axe…” And as I am lost in these deep thoughts… The impossible happens… The “Axe” trailer door opens and Damian comes out!
Ooops! I was totally NOT expecting THAT! If only I had an invisibility cloak. That would come handy 🙂 Damian does not see me first. But as he walks towards Costabile, for some reason, he looks to his left:
“Oh, hey, how are you?”
The FUN part is he does not seem very surprised to see me. Maybe he’s used to seeing me at places now… Is this good or bad? Still.. he says he thinks I am “absolutely a spy” because I can find him anywhere!
It turns out they are just done with the morning shoot and on their way to lunch. Then they are coming back for “more stuff” in the afternoon. We chat a bit. I tell them how we, fans, are Team Axe all the way! And I am extremely happy to have the opportunity to tell David, who is a genuinely very nice man, about how much I loved him as Gale Boetticher in Breaking Bad! And hearing Damian tell David “they are doing some amazing blogging” about us is the most delicious cherry on the cake! 🙂
You can see from the body language that Damian and David have very good chemistry off screen and made friends. It’s fantastic they are hanging out together. And, hey, seeing Team Axe going to lunch together reminds me of a fascinating story I read long time ago…
The story is from the shoot of the very famous 1968 science fiction movie Planet of the Apes. In the movie, there are three ape species: chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. When the actors playing the ape characters have their makeup and costumes on, it is obviously difficult to take them off for lunch so they basically go to lunch with their ape make up on. And they segregate themselves by species. Charlton Heston notes: “Not only would the apes eat together, but the chimpanzees ate with the chimpanzees, the gorillas ate with the gorillas, the orangutans ate with the orangutans, and the humans would eat off by themselves. It was quite spooky.”
Can you imagine? 🙂
So… Maybe Team Axe and Team Chuck are having lunch separately as well? That’s a wild speculation on my part (and most probably wrong since the two teams seem to shoot separately most of the time given that Axe and Chuck do not really have much shared screen time) but it just makes sense to do it just to stay in character, doesn’t it?
Anyhow… back to the set: I was not really expecting ANY OF THIS, I would just take a few photos and leave, so I am not even asking for a photo. It is Damian who says: “Don’t you want a photo? Let’s take a photo. You need to tell the world how you caught us on set!” Well, who caught who is a bit up for debate here, but yeah I would be DELIGHTED to have pics!
So… Team Axe says a big HI from Billions set! BIG thanks go to my favorite Billions boys Damian and David for the fun chat and the pic! You guys are the BEST! We are on Team Axe all the way and hope to catch you again on the streets of New York during Season 2 shoot!
Later in the day, I find out, thanks to a fan tweet, they are shooting interior scenes at the Explorer’s Club a few blocks away from the trailers. And it’s funny that Wall Street Journal gets a backstage pass on Billions set that afternoon. It should be the “stuff” Damian is talking about before heading to lunch. You will notice the same outfit in WSJ interview picture. There are several pictures from the final episode at this link — they could be potential spoilers so check out at your own risk!